The Portland Community Chamber of Commerce is calling out Mayor Ethan Strimling for telling his supporters that business leaders heckled him last week when he proposed a $15-an-hour minimum wage, calling it a flat-out misrepresentation.

The business group also criticized Strimling for saying during the event that he had not expressed support for eliminating the city manager’s position at City Hall, when he had expressed that opinion during a forum last month.

Strimling unveiled his proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour during the chamber’s mayoral debate last week. He told the chamber members, “I know you’re going to light your hair on fire,” but the higher minimum wage would give Portland a competitive advantage to attract workers.

He followed up the forum with a fundraising email under the subject line “they heckled.”

“This morning, in front of 400 business leaders, I announced that I will propose a $15 minimum wage in my second term as mayor. Their response? They heckled,” Strimling said in the Oct. 10 email. “But we know the Chamber of Commerce will fight anything we do to boost working people, because we saw it in my first term.”

Strimling, who was endorsed by the chamber during the 2015 election when he became mayor, opposed a citywide referendum that year that would have increased the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Nearly 60 percent of voters that year opposed that proposal. But since then, Strimling has blamed the chamber of commerce for opposing some of his policies, including a mandate that Portland businesses pay workers for earned sick time. The proposal failed but the Legislature soon passed a statewide mandate.

Chamber CEO Quincy Hentzel said in an email Wednesday that she was “appalled” by the heckling remark, calling it a “flat-out misrepresentation.” She said the email illustrates the divisiveness of Strimling.

“The chamber held a balanced and substantive debate centered around the need for a mayor who is trustworthy, believes in collaboration and will serve as the mayor of all of Portland,” Hentzel said. ”On the heels of that conversation, the mayor sent out this divisive fundraising appeal, validating the fact that he will remain combative, divisive and has no intention of working in collaboration with the men and women of the chamber. In his email, the mayor stated he was also heckled by the audience – nothing of the sort happened and I am appalled that Mr. Strimling would fabricate such a flat-out misrepresentation.”

A Portland Press Herald reporter at the event did not observe anyone speaking up or interrupting Strimling, although some audience members groaned or chuckled when he made his comments about the minimum wage.

The Oxford Dictionary defines heckling as interrupting (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.

Strimling said Wednesday that the heckling description in the fundraising email was referring to laughter in the audience, and he responded to the accusations with a written statement Wednesday afternoon.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said Wednesday, “Even in the face of these kinds of attacks from the chamber and my opponents, I will continue fighting for the people who are getting squeezed out by the over-gentrification of our city.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I was clear at both debates, I support a future charter change to create an executive mayor, as it will make our government more democratic and more responsive to the people,” he said. “More importantly, from paid sick leave, to increased wages for workers, to building affordable housing, the chamber has been on the wrong side of working families for almost my entire first term. Even in the face of these kinds of attacks from the chamber and my opponents, I will continue fighting for the people who are getting squeezed out by the over-gentrification of our city.”

After the debate, Chamber President Jim Cohen said the group’s board had not discussed Strimling’s $15-an-hour wage proposal, but its members generally believe that labor and employment laws are best handled at the state level.

The chamber released videos Wednesday showing Strimling expressing different positions on the elimination of the city manager’s position.

A video of a previous debate hosted by off-peninsula neighborhood groups in September clearly shows Strimling holding up a green check mark indicating “Yes” in response to a question about whether he supports a charter revision to eliminate the city manager’s position and install an executive, or strong, mayor. At the chamber debate, Strimling said, “I’m certainly not running saying we need to get rid of the city manager.”

“This pattern of saying different things to different audiences is troubling,” Hentzel said.

Strimling, however, said he has been clear in his support for revising the charter to create an executive mayor. He said Wednesday that his comments at the chamber forum were in a different context and that he meant he is not running for office for the purpose of eliminating the city manager position.

 

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